November 24 (1975, 1985, 1986, 2000)
California Kuksu Cult ~ The Big Oak at Lovers Leap
~ Kids in the Canyon

11/24/75   evening in wren shack. have been reading about the central california kuksu cult of the indians. i have an article, chapter rather, from kroeber's handbook that i xeroxed at the grass valley library. the kuksu cult is something i have ignored up until now in my study of the california indians. i have been focusing on details of the material culture—no, that's not right. i've been reading whatever i could get my hands on, and had gotten so far as to conclude independently that there was a homogeneity of culture over much of california, which found its most developed expression in central california, notably in the pomo people, and, as i have come to learn more recently, also in the maidu and wintun people, and the miwok.

so now, in reading about kuksu, i am delighted to find that there was a religion that also spanned much of california, but found its highest and most elaborate expression in central california: the kuksu secret society. my heart aches that the maidu, wintun, pomo et. al. were culturally as well as physically destroyed in the course of settlement in california by the whites. in this day and age there can be no frank waters to carefully record the religious beliefs/practices of these shattered tribes as he so ably did with those of the hopi. So my xeroxed copy of kroeber's chapter on kuksu is only the bare bones of an incomplete skeleton. the dramatic impersonation of their gods by dancers ~ the ceremonial earth-house ~ the fast-drum ~ the clown ~ the moki ~ the kuksu, or ‘big-head.’ kroeber remarks on the uniqueness of the kuksu cult in california, and draws a parallel between it and the elaborate mythology of the hopi. which causes me to grimace in memory of the days when i thought of california indians as people lulled into spiritual oblivion through easy living. i would shrug my shoulders and wish that someone, as spiritually sensitive as the hopi seemed to be, had populated california ~ they, at least, would have been able to appreciate california's natural wonders, which I thought california indians took for granted.

but i was ignorant.

california indians were not spiritually blind; but they have always been portrayed as so by the whites. the whites had to erect a strong wall of rationalization to protect themselves from the blows of outraged conscience, for they robbed the indians of their land outright, massacred them, cheated and swindled them in every way. the gold rush was the great death-blow to the indians, bringing shock-waves of whites into every part of the state, miners, ranchers, speculators, etc. the prime object of the whole game was money, the acquiring of personal worth, be it in the form of gold or land. and the indians were simply in the way, were treated as sub-human enemies from the start, for it was so much easier to kill and rip off sub-humans than one's fellow man.

so not much is known about the kuksu cult. the dances were held in the rainy season, in the earth-covered houses. elaborately costumed and painted dancers would portray various gods at different times of the year. a chorus sang songs. a member of the society learned the various ‘parts’ in the course of his life, and as he enacted them attained to a higher stage of being, in the maidu there being twelve stages or degrees. the higher degrees seem to have been dominated to some extent by leading families of the tribe. there was no central organization. each village had its own dance house, its own secret-society. I am intrigued if grass valley/nevada city (oustamah) tribes had kuksu dances. shall try to find out.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

More about the Kuksu Religion:

A portion of
Alfred Kroeber's 1907 “The Religion of the Indians of California” is available at Sacred Texts Online:

November 24, 1985

Evening. Continuous rain for all the day and most the night. And most of yesterday. A lot of snow has been melted.

I have been working on dihedral angle equations for the past 2 days [...]

[Russell Towle's journal]

11/24/86   Today I wrote a letter to Dean Swickard of the Folsom BLM office about the Big Oak at Lover's Leap, etc. Then the typewriter went on the blitz, so I had to stop; now I'm trying to get the bugs out. [...]

Then I went into Colfax—after working on the Bushy Pine—and bought savory baked tofu [...] Now home, tired, cloudy skies, cloudy mind [...]
Mr. Swickard,

I hear that Kevin Clarke is no longer with your office in Folsom, and so I thought I'd write you.

This summer a few of us here in Dutch Flat went with Kevin Clarke to re-measure and otherwise examine the Big Oak at Lover's Leap. We anticipated meeting with him again, but now I hear he's left your office, and wishing to clarify BLM's intentions I write you this letter.

The arborists Austen and Will Carroll, examined the tree, which exhibits necrosis of the cambium in several locations near the base of the trunk. The bark is loosening and falling away from these patches. The problem is a function of the tree's overall vitality, rather than being a disease demanding a specific course of treatment.

Hence the fix for the big oak, as discussed by the Carrolls, is very simple. It carries no guarantee of success, but may in fact stop and reverse the necrosis. The Big Oak is competing for soil nutrients and water with many dozens of small cedars and pines growing up beneath its branches. These should be removed. To the south and west of the Big Oak other dozens of small pines and cedars are growing rapidly. These should be thinned with an eye towards protecting the Big Oak's share of sunshine 20 or 30 years downstream.

Having removed the small conifers beneath the Big Oak, nitrogen fertilizer should be spread over the area. About 100 pounds of ammonium sulfate should do the trick.

It is hoped that reducing competition, combined with fertilizing, will enable the Big Oak to turn the corner. In addition, the Carrolls recommended climbing the big oak to remove dead branches; there is also one mistletoe clump which could be easily sawed out. A small gain in vitality could be expected.

The Carrolls also recommended cabling the Big Oak. This would prevent the loss of major branches to snow. It would require more money, the cables would be a bit unsightly, and an electrical ground would have to be installed—a large wire brought down the trunk somewhere—to protect against lightning. Personally, I don't think we should rush into cabling the Big Oak. It has stood the test of time, and will more than likely continue to do so.

Thinning and fertilization are the most urgent priorities, in so far as the tree's current health problems go. I would like to volunteer the services of myself and my friends to accomplish these goals. A single afternoon could suffice. I have all too much experience clearing undergrowth of this sort.

Actually, I would like to have your permission to clear similar jungles from beneath other forest giants on the BLM lands at Lover's Leap. There are many huge oaks and pines in serious danger; a wildfire today through these woods might well kill everything, for the fuel loading is tremendous. That forest is in the process of changing from its age-old Black Oak/Ponderosa Pine mix, into a climax stand of Incense Cedar and Douglas Fir. If BLM wishes to preserve the character (and fire proof) the lands at Lovers Leap, a really radical removal of small trees would be called for. I simply would like to clear them away from the extant really big trees; as I've mentioned to Kevin, I envision a Lovers Leap Big Trees Trail, beginning at the parking area and zig-zagging down the hill past all the finest trees. Many of these giants are now buried within dense thickets of cedar.

Well, so much for the Big Oak. What do you think?

I am also, of course, very curious about the progress of BLM's land acquisition program in Giant Gap. I believe BLM should make every effort to acquire the 80 acres, in four twenty-acre parcels, immediately north of Lovers Leap. Also, as I've mentioned to Kevin, an old mining ditch connects the BLM lands at Lover's Leap with BLM lands at Bogus Point, about a mile west. The ditch hugs the rim of the canyon, and would make a great Giant Gap Scenic Trail, connecting to the Big Trees Trail. The ditch traverses several parcels of private property between Bogus Point and the Leap; acquisition of easements or even title would be necessary.

Incidentally, illegal garbage dumping has been occurring at Bogus Point in recent years. I alerted the Placer County Department of Environmental Health, who gathered evidence and now know the identities of the people dumping. However, I believe that Placer County will do nothing about it. Perhaps a call from your office might inspire them. Bogus Point provides fine views of Giant Gap and a point of access into the Canyon Creek Gorge, where a trail leads down to the North Fork; tons of garbage have accumulated in recent years, where there was none before.

Well, thank you for your consideration of these matters. I hope you have a happy holiday season and I am

Sincerely yours,

Russell Towle

[Below is the unfinished content of a digital file named “Guidebook”, last modified on November 24, 2000.]
Lovers Leap

A gigantic blade of greenstone juts boldly south into the grand canyon of the North Fork American; it is a spur from broad Moody Ridge, and has a distorted twin across the canyon to the south. I have dubbed this twin, which projects north from Giant Gap Ridge, the Pinnacle Ridge, because its crest is studded with a series of rocky teeth. Between the two opposing spur ridges, the North Fork Canyon contracts into one of the more beautiful gorges in the Northern Sierra, known since 1849 as Giant Gap. Lovers Leap provides an eagle-eye view of Giant Gap, with the river roaring along over two thousand feet below, but the view encompasses much more, from Mt. Diablo and portions of the Coast Ranges to the southwest, to the Sierra Crest at the head of the North Fork, over thirty miles northeast.

I have not yet found any mention of the name, Lovers Leap, before about 1895, although I have accounts of visits to the place from as early as 1876. It has always been known as one of the most beautiful scenes in a beautiful county, and began to attract more notoriety and attention once the Central Pacific Railroad was built. The view of Lovers Leap and Giant Gap, from the line of the railroad a couple of miles east, was always accounted the most beautiful along the entire 3,000 miles of the Pacific Railroad. For a time, as the rails were just approaching the area, in 1866, there seems to have been a movement afoot to rename Giant Gap, Jehovah Gap, the better to evoke its awesome grandeur.

The summit of the ridge at Lovers Leap once had a brass benchmark recording its elevation, 4139 feet, and there was another such benchmark down at the Leap itself; both have been torn out by vandals. Consulting the 7.5 minute Dutch Flat quadrangle, we find that the river south of Lovers Leap is at about 1680 feet, and subtracting, we obtain a depth of 2459 feet, or in round numbers, 2500 feet. Noting that a mere mile separates Lovers Leap to Giant Gap Ridge, across the canyon, we see that this mile in width, and half-mile in depth, suggest an average slope-angle of 45 degrees. From the cliff-top at Lovers Leap, one would never guess that the slope could be as shallow as 45 degrees, and to be sure there are places in which the cliff is vertical, and locally, even overhanging. A rock well thrown from Lovers Leap may fall more than a thousand feet before it hits.

Green Valley

Just east and upstream from Giant Gap, the North Fork canyon widens into a vast amphitheater. In Giant Gap the canyon is about one mile across, from rim to rim, but in Green Valley, it is over three miles across. This abrupt contrast in canyon architecture mirrors an equally abrupt contrast in geology; for the late Paleozoic greenstone of Giant Gap, part of the Calaveras Complex, is in faulted contact with the Mesozoic serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, in Green Valley. This serpentine and its associated faults forms one of the larger discrete bedrock structures in the Sierra. It is a linear mass, a mile or so wide, but almost a hundred miles long, which roughly parallels the Sierra Crest. It is cut by all the major canyons from the Cosumnes River, north through the forks of the Feather, and everywhere along its length, the shattered, slickensided weakness of the serpentine rock has promoted canyons which tend towards being valleys, and are far removed from being gorges.

The relatively gentle slopes of the canyon walls in Green Valley allowed easier access to the river than is usual, and were it not that Green Valley has been mined up, down, and sideways for gold, we should expect to find abundant remains of the Indians there. The same two ridges, on opposing sides of the canyon, and representing relatively less fractured and more massive zones within the serpentine, which today bear the two halves of the Green Valley Trail, must have always in days of old formed the principal routes of access down to the river.

The alert reader may wonder why it is assumed that access was from the top, down; why not, from points upstream or down, merely follow the river itself? However, it is a general rule that in these unglaciated middle and lower reaches of the main canyons, it is difficult to follow the river itself; and this difficulty is actually increased to near impossibility near Green Valley. To follow the river downstream means one must force the passage of Giant Gap, where cliffs plunge directly into deep pools. In the late summer these pools may be comfortably and safely swum, but there is absolutely no possibility of simply walking along beside the river, or even of hopping from boulder to boulder. Similarly, going upstream a narrow gorge separates Green Valley from Euchre Bar, about a mile away, and this gorge is not easy to pass at river level. Here at least, by climbing four or five hundred feet up on the north side of the river, a higher route may be picked out, itself difficult.

Both Euchre Bar and Green Valley have substantial and deep deposits of Quaternary gravels, but the Quaternary gravels of Green Valley are of a depth and volume rarely seen in the Sierra. They ought to form a rich field for study, as it is possible that correlations could be made to the various glacial advances. I will return to this subject below; for now, it is enough to know that unusually thick deposits of gravel flank the river in Green Valley, extending a half a mile and more from the river, and to elevations as much as 500 feet, or even more, above the river. These are gold-bearing gravels, and were mined by drifting, hydraulicing, and ground sluicing. Old mining ditches are found all over the place in Green Valley. Old mining camps and house sites and even a hotel site, may be found.

North Fork of the North Fork of the American

From the road to Blue Canyon a graveled road forks to the left, past a few houses, and forks again soon. The right fork leads down across the railroad tracks to the south and in less than a mile reaches the ghost town, Lost Camp. Several hydraulic mine pits are in the vicinity. Some of the house sites are visible, because their cellars remain, shallow rectangular pits. Lost Camp boomed in 1858, and Allen Towle of Dutch Flat built a sawmill there in 1859. However, the boom quickly fizzled, and by 1863 it could scarcely be called a village. A Mr. Coyne had a general store there and supplied the various mining camps with some goods.

Keeping to the left past the townsite, the road forks again. The right fork leads out the divide between the North Fork of the North Fork, and Blue Canyon. The left fork leads to the trailhead, by the way of another left fork which drops steeply at first and ends in a hundred yards anyway.

This trail is called the China Trail in Wendell Robie’s 1953 list of sixty Placer County trails. It is well-graded and was once used by pack trains of mules which came from Dutch Flat and supplied the mining camps of Texas Hill, Burnett Canyon, Monumental Canyon, and possibly, Mumford Bar. As it descends to the river it parallels Texas Canyon (unnamed on modern topographic quadrangles). In not much more than a mile, it reaches the river, passing a terrace which is likely an old cabin site. The trail used to contine up the far side of the canyon to Sawtooth Ridge, and the Burnett Canyon Trail, but logging roads and log decks have ruined it.

Where the trail from Lost Camp reaches the river, must be the Ladybug Capital of the Universe; I have seen large areas of the rocks in that area covered with what would appear to be millions of them. Although logging has occured on the slopes across the river, no signs of this are visible from the river itself. A faint trail leads upstream past some old cabin or camp terraces, and the water-polished exposures of Shoo Fly metasandstone and slate are lovely. The canyon gradually narrows as the confluence with Fulda Creek is approached, and then suddenly a deep pool hemmed in by sheer cliffs blocks further progress along the stream itself. This is the beginning of the gorge section of the North Fork of the North Fork. With care and agility this little inner gorge may be passed on either side by climbing higher; however, if the season permits, the pool is easily swum. At the upper end the North Fork of the North Fork plunges over a waterfall just above the confluence with Fulda Creek. Fulda has its own waterfalls immediately upstream from the confluence.

Passing the waterfall on the main stream is difficult. A fisherman or miner if years long past knotted some heavy iron wire at the cliff there, which may be used to climb up and continue upstream; but this is fairly hazardous, as a fall would be dreadful. However, a series of ledges may be climbed, veering away from the stream on stream left, and this cliff section safely passed a hundred feet above. However, many areas of slanting water-polished rock confront the gorge scrambler as one proceeds upstream, and the river must be crossed occasionally to avoid steep sections. Dangerous at any time, when the river is running high this gorge would be too dangerous.

The cliffs of metamorphic rock on all sides seem to loom over the river in a rather menacing manner. Sitting here near the confluence with Fulda Creek, and gazing up at these blocky cliffs, with the many overhangs, I have become dizzy and nervous. And I love cliffs! The water-polished metamorphic rocks along the river are fascinating, with some small overturned anticlines exposed to view.

The confluence with the main North Fork of the North Fork is reached next; it enters its own gorge from the side, in a series of waterfalls. The lowest of these falls is well above the bottom of the gorge and the climb up to it is a little tricky. Continuing up the gorge, one is following the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. A deep pool is reached, guarded by cliffs on both sides. On river right a fisherman’s trail leads to a bit of rock climbing which is easier than it looks, allowing one to continue upstream. Soon the confluence of Burnett Canyon is reached. A rather large waterfall hides out of view in this canyon, a little ways up from the East Fork.

I have gone only a short distance up the East Fork from the confluence with Burnett Canyon. The gorge mellows into a canyon again. However, this little metasedimentary chasm, between Texas Canyon and Burnett Canyon, is surely one of the wildest and most unusual gorges in Placer County. Within a short distance, several major streams converge upon the gorge: Texas Canyon, Fulda Creek, Sailor Canyon, the North Fork of the North Fork, Burnett Canyon, and the East Fork of the North Fork of the North Fork. All of these streams funneled ice into the main canyon, and that the principal stream—the North Fork of the North Fork—enters from the (north) side, suggests that the principal direction of ice flow (and thus gorge deepening) was more westerly (in a line with the East Fork) than southerly (in a line with the North Fork of the North Fork). At the head of the East Fork, the chert summit of Quartz Mountain, at about 7,000 feet in elevation, shows glacial striae running east-west, denoting flow from the South Yuba basin into that of the East Fork. However, ice from the South Yuba basin also spilled into the North Fork of the North Fork by way of the various other streams. The principal axis of the gorge is roughly at right angles to the strike of the bedrock, and this may have contributed to its deepening in that direction. For instance, the North Fork of the North Fork has incised a small inner gorge of its own as it plunges in waterfalls down to the bottom of the gorge; and the local twists and turns of its course are artifacts of stream erosion, not ice erosion. These twists and turns seem clearyl governed by bedrock structure, and some tendency to cut more deeply across the strike of the strata is evident. So, rather than an overwhelming global ice flow from east to west as the primary deepening agent, perhaps a tendency of the metasediments to quarry more easily perpendicular to strike has governed the development of the gorge.

Euchre Bar Trail

On the old maps one sometimes sees a ridge west of Shady Run marked “Trail Spur,” apparently a reference to the Euchre Bar Trail. Follow Casa Loma Road east beyond the springs, to where it forks at the railroad. Follow the right fork across the tracks and on down to Iron Point, which offers wonderful views of the North Fork canyon and Giant Gap. Trail parking may be had a little ways below the knoll at the Iron Point turnoff, where a small cement outhouse stands. The road continues down to the Rawhide Mine, and gets pretty rough. The trail follows the ridge down for a ways, until it suddenly veers left and begins switching back and forth down a slope with an eastern exposure and fairly continuous tree cover, mainly California Black Oak and Canyon Live Oak, with a smattering of Bay Laurel and Bigleaf Maple. The trail is nicely graded, like many of the old mining trails, which were miniature highways trodden by many mules.

As one approaches the river, an old house site is reached, on a high bench of Quaternary gravels. The cement door stoop is inscribed “Welcome Friend Euchre Bar.” A few twists and turns past mine workings in the high gravels brings you to the bridge. The current bridge dates back to the 1960s, but earlier incarnations existed at least as far back as the 1890s. A faint trail may be followed upstream on river right, which eventually degenerates into a pure rock scramble and boulder hop, not too difficult, and one reaches, in a half mile, the confluence with the North Fork of the North Fork.

Crossing the bridge to river left, a little ways above, the remains of a mining ditch which once led water from the North Fork down to the hydraulic mines at the west end of Green Valley are found. The ditch may be followed upstream or downstream. It cannot be followed into Green Valley, without some difficulty, for it crossed the river on a flume in the Euchre Bar Gorge, between Euchre Bar and Green Valley. However, it makes a nice hike in either direction from Euchre Bar. Beware of poison oak and rattlesnakes.

The main trail on river left, beyond the bridge, is a bit higher than the ditch, and leads up the canyon for a couple of miles to Humbug Canyon, and a mile beyond, to one of the many old gold mines in the area. At Humbug Canyon, Euchre Bar, and Green Valley, large accumulations of Quaternary gravels were worked by drifting, ground sluicing, and even hydraulic mining.

Gold Run Diggings

As one approaches the Dutch Flat exit on eastbound I-80, the red bluffs of gravel beside the freeway are not roadcuts, but remnants of hydraulic mining. These banks of gravel are at the extreme north end of the Gold Run Mining District, which extends about two miles south to its terminus at the edge of the North Fork American River canyon. The Gold Run Diggings are a semi-wilderness of a hydraulic mining wasteland which is being actively revegetated. Manzanita and Ponderosa Pine have covered much of the maze of little ridges and canyons which thread the diggings. Much of this property once belonged to James Stewart the younger, the son of James Stewart, one of the mine superintendents of the glory days of hydraulic mining, in the 1870s and 1880s; so the Gold Run Diggings are sometimes known as Stewarts Diggings, or the Stewart Gravel Mine.

These high Eocene gravels were first claimed in the spring of 1852. Stephen Beers and J.F. Talbott were among the first claimants. Banks of cemented gold-bearing gravel had been found at the head of Indiana Ravine, above Pickering Bar on the North Fork, and by 1853 dozens of claims had been located. The same Eocene river channel had also been discovered and claims located to the north at Dutch Flat, and three new mining districts were formed: the Dutch Flat, Maryland Hill, and Indiana Hill districts. Eventually the Indiana Hill Mining District was subsumed within the Gold Run Mining District, which in turn had begun as the Cold Springs Mining District. This confusion in mining districts has several causes: a tendency for small districts to consolidate into larger districts (just as the small mining claims of the early days were consolidated into the larger claims of later days), and the names of the settlements of the area. Just west of the Gold Run Diggings stands Cold Springs Hill, a remnant of the same Pliocene mudflow surface preserved atop Moody Ridge to the east. Now, Cold Springs, the settlement, dates back to 1849, when a trading post was built here. The springs issue from the rhyolite ash of the Valley Springs formation, beneath the stratum of andesitic mudflow, and the original site of the trading post seems to have been on the southwest side of the hill, where a meadow had formed near the springs. Naturally, this was a Nisenan Maidu site as well.

At any rate, the tiny community of Cold Springs arose and in 1854, changed its name to Mountain Springs, to avoid being confused with the many other places named Cold Springs. So things continued until 1862, when Hollenbeck built a hotel down on the stage road and named the new town “Gold Run.”

Pickering Bar Trail

Canyon Creek Trail

Smarts Crossing

Blue Wing Trail

Stevens Trail

Big Valley Bluff

Sugar Pine Point

Loch Leven Lakes

Little Granite Trail

Mumford Bar Trail

Sailor Canyon Trail

Sailor Meadow

Devils Peak

Snow Mountain

Lyon Peak

Needle Peak

Tinkers Knob

Wabena Point

Royal Gorge

Palisade Creek Trail

Long Lake

Big Valley

Red Mountain

Grouse Ridge

Old Man Mountain

Yuba Gorge

Eagle Lakes

A Fun Day With Kids, Canyon Creek Trail

November 24, 2000

A Thanksgiving ramble down the Canyon Creek Trail with some of the McClung clan of Dutch Flat.

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